Curt Swift, Ph.D.
Grand Junction Free Press Gardening Columnist

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January 17, 2013
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SWIFT: Many hurdles before Mesa County can grow hemp

Monday evening's League of Women Voters meeting was in part about industrial hemp. The guest speaker county commissioner Steven Acquafresca indicated the Board of County Commissioners would most likely opt out of the item in Amendment 64 that deals with the licensing of cultivation facilities, product manufacturing facilities, testing facilities, and retail stores.

He did not, however, indicate how the possible production of industrial hemp would be handled in Mesa County. As indicated in last week's column, the production of industrial hemp is permitted in Colorado under Amendment 64.-

This meeting also gave me the opportunity to bring up the Act signed by Gov. Hickenlooper last year authorizing the establishment of an industrial hemp remediation pilot program to study phytoremediation of contaminated soil using hemp. Hemp has been shown to absorb and sequester contaminates and House Bill 12-1009 authorizes the acceptance of funds and research on this topic.-

Many people feel the growing of industrial hemp is illegal according to federal law yet the International Convention of 1961 listing controlled substances specifically excludes industrial hemp. A number of countries that are cosigners of the convention grow industrial hemp. These countries have established rules and regulation that allow hemp containing no more than three-tenth of 1 percent of THC and Colorado should be able to do the same.

Hemp may not be an economical crop in the early stages of development due to the lack of a processing facility for the fibers. As more growers become involved with industrial hemp, a processing plant will most likely follow. When lavender first came into the area, a distillation facility was not available. That situation was quickly corrected with a mobile distillation facility.

Extension specialists in land-grant universities in other states have put together economic data on the production of industrial hemp. Unless Colorado State University's general counsel changes his mind, you should not expect any help on this issue from Colorado State University Extension staff or professionals. They were directed not to provide any assistance regarding the production of cannabis. I would not even be able to discuss this in today's column if I still worked for CSU. Hopefully, the committee that is assigned to work with industrial hemp will develop rules and guidelines based on the success of other countries.-

At Monday's meeting someone asked me about winter watering. While watering during the winter is critical for gardens and lawns in the Grand Valley, it should not be done when temperatures are below freezing. Watering when water will freeze on the soil surface will cause additional problems.

The layer of snow on our lawns and gardens is pulling moisture out of the soil. And as soon as the temperature is above freezing, that soil moisture needs to be replaced. The snow is also reflecting the heat of the sun onto stems and tree trunks. This will result in damage called sun scald on any thin bark trees and shrubs. We might also have problems with hybrid roses dying back to the ground due to the current cold weather and reflected rays of the sun off the snow.

I hope you mulched your roses or you might be replacing them in the spring. The cold and snow might also affect grapevines and fruit trees in the area. Hopefully, our trees, shrubs, roses, grape vines, and lawns won't suffer from this winter but we won't know until later this spring. Some trees might not even show the adverse effects of winter until mid-summer.

Norway maple and birch trees that start to die back from the tips of their branches in mid-summer do so as a result of root damage resulting from winter drought. As soon as weather permits, water even if you still have snow covering the ground.

Dr. Curtis E. Swift is a retired horticulture agent with the CSU Extension. Reach him at or check out his blog at He owns Swift Horticultural Consulting and High Altitude Lavender.

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